Approximately 600 students, educators and workers hailing from UCs, CSUs, community colleges and K-12 schools from across the state came together in a day-long “mass democratic action” at UC Berkeley’s Pauley Ballroom on Oct. 24.
The group, calling the event the Mobilizing Conference to Save Public Education, met with the intent to figure out the next step to confront the budget cuts in California’s public higher education system. The group decided a statewide day of marches will take place on March 4, 2010.
Speakers that included students, parents, educators and workers kicked off the conference by introducing the problem at hand — the severe budget cuts and layoffs that are happening across all California public schools. The conference facilitators and speakers all stressed that there were larger matters at hand that encompass the budget cuts.
“That’s what this is about — the privatization of public education,” said Kathryn Lybarger, a gardener at UC Berkeley and member of the AFSCME coalition that attended the conference.
By raising tuition costs, cutting CAL grants and further limiting financial aid, many students of lower economic backgrounds will soon be unable to afford college, attendees maintained. Facilitator and UC Berkeley fourth-year Luis Angel Reyes also contended that the further privatization of public education has become a racial issue.
“Students of color have been fighting to keep the doors open to the university,” Reyes said onstage at the conference in one of the introductory speeches.“This is a historic movement. This is the beginning of a mass movement in the entire country.”
The floor was opened to anyone who wished to express their ideas for the next plan of action. There were a range of proposals, from the legislative to the demonstrative. Some proposals for an indefinite strike were made by UC Santa Cruz students during the open floor session and were met with cheers from the audience.
“A one-day strike is not going to shake the state,” said Brian Glasscock, a UCSC first-year. “An indefinite strike is the only way to win what we want.”
Other ideas that were brought to the floor were to march at UC Los Angeles or in Sacramento. However, due to the overall concern of losing visible support because of the potential inconvenience, it was decided that action on individual campuses would be the best course of action.
Since creating a show of unity was high on the list of priorities for the next demonstration, a date was agreed upon during the conference. After much deliberation and dissent, a decision was made to launch a statewide march on March 4 to occur at each respective campus so that more people may have the opportunity to participate.
Immediately following the conference a blend of roughly 100 UC students, educators and workers took their impassioned protest right up to UC President Mark Yudof’s mansion in Oakland Hills. The protesters marched through the neighborhood with signs shaped like tombstones, in reference to a quote from a recent New York Times article in which Yudof said that being the president of the University of California is like being the manager of a graveyard.
“There are many people under you, but no one is listening,” Yudof said in the interview.
In a UC student media meeting on Oct. 19 Yudof explained what he meant by the controversial “cemetery” joke. He commented that “people think the president of the University of California is all-powerful but it’s like being the manager of a cemetery. I get to talk a lot, but people aren’t listening to me … It didn’t mean they were dead, it didn’t mean there were cadavers. It just meant that … I don’t have a command and control; I need the cooperation of students and faculty. That’s all it meant.”
The protesters were met by police who had taped off the driveway to Yudof’s house. The gravestones, many of which read “RIP Quality Education,” were placed right outside the police line and on the hillside in front of the mansion.
Chants of “Shame on you! Shame on you!” quickly turned into “Shame on Yudof! Shame on Yudof!”
Although some conference attendees were disappointed in the seeming lack of solidarity in the decision to stage a campus-wide march, facilitator Reyes said, “Remember, we’re starting from the beginning of a movement and we have a lot of challenges.”
“There’s a woeful lack of knowledge [of the situation] at my school,” said a student representative from UCSC at the conference. “We need to raise awareness first.”